Christmas for kids used to mean Lego, Battleship and Barbie. It still does, except now digital devices have been added to the mix.
That new reality led one parent to email me asking whether the Google Nexus 7 tablet would be a good gift for her two young children. They are begging for an iPod touch to play games with, but according to her email she doesn’t want them “to be walking around with a pocket-sized device for email/text/Internet capability outside of this house (they don’t even get to email/text at home).” She noted I’ve praised the Nexus 7 in past columns and I continue to do so. But is it suitable for kids?
The short answer is yes. It’s the right size for little hands, has survived being dropped on my kitchen floor, and its Android operating system has lots of games and apps for children. But you have to be comfortable with the idea of giving a full-blown tablet to a child.
Obviously I support exposing kids to tech — it’s a fundamental part of the world in which they are growing up, and interaction with tech has surpassed learning to drive as a fundamental modern survival skill.
I cringe, however, when I see parents at Denny’s handing a beautiful $650 iPad to a three-year-old. That, putting it mildly, is one overpriced toy you’re putting at risk in the hands of a creature with less self control than the family dog. You might as well dump the contents of your wallet on the table and let them toss your money around. I’d recommend less expensive options for dedicated use.
The mom who wrote me has thought hard about her choice and is willing to deal with the $209 starting price (when ordered direct from Google) for the Nexus 7. A key consideration for her is a safe device that she can control on behalf of her children. Fortunately, the tablet’s Android 4.2 operating system includes a Kid Mode app which transforms the tablet into a child-centric device allowing tight parental control of games and activities for kids eight years old and younger. Individual accounts can also be set up for each child. User reviews of the Kid Mode app on the Google Play Store are very positive. The bonus is that when the kids are asleep, mom can turn off Kid Mode and use the Nexus 7 as a powerful adult tablet with all the features turned back on.
Another option for kids are tablets specifically designed for their age group. Tablets in this category are less capable than devices made for adults, but are generally cheaper, a consideration if you find little Jenny’s tablet sitting in the bathtub or cat’s litter box six months from now.
Toys R Us carries the Kurio seven-inch tablet listed at $179 on the store’s website. Both PCMag.com and Laptop.com praise the tablet, which also runs Android, for a child-friendly design that allows parents to implement strict device time and Internet access with multiple accounts for individual kids. It includes an Adult Mode for parental use, but both tech sites suggest adults will be frustrated with the Kurio’s relative sluggishness, weak battery life, limited number of available apps, and according to Laptop.com, an unimpressive screen.
These deficiencies might matter little to kids, although bad battery life will be an issue in the backseat of the car on long road trips when Angry Birds cuts out. Be prepared with a few rounds of “I spy with my little eye” as a low-tech backup.